Yangshuo, Liuzhou, & Jishuo

I slept in past six today! I would have slept longer after the trials of yesterday, but was roused from my sweet slumber at an excited pack of Germans shuttling down the hall to go on their own adventure that day.

I lay in bed until nine, hoping sleep would eventually take me, but I had no such luck. I did some email on my iPhone, charged my camera battery, and then braved the hostel shower.

cup of coffee and creamer on a patio table

Once we were packed, Nicole and I went downstairs and checked out of the hotel, paying only 30¥ to replace the scooter mirror. We then sat on the hostel patio and ordered breakfast. I was very, very hungry, so ordered pear muesli and an apple crepe. It came with freshly pressed orange juice, chalk full of pulp, and a cup of Yunnan coffee. I thoroughly enjoyed the juice and crepe, however the pear muesli was very unusual. The whole time I spent eating it I was wondering how to describe the texture of the pear. It was very foreign to me- nothing like a Bartlett or Anjou. The words ‘furry’ and ‘foamy’ came to mind as I chewed, but neither of those were the perfect adjectives to use.

Once we’d polished our plates and cups clean, Nicole and I headed to the bus station where we bought our bus tickets to Liuzhou. As we had a couple hours to spare, we checked our bags and explored Yangshuo some more.

Our first mission was to find a post office. My friend Jay had asked me to send him a postcard from China as his father collected stamps. Nicole never mails anything from China as its very unreliable, so we weren’t quite sure how a Chinese post office worked. The woman at the counter gave us a stamp and directed up to a table with a bowl of water and a bowl of paste that resembled porridge. When I dabbed water on my stamp, it curled up like paper. So then I tried the paste, but it was all gritty and oozed out the side of the stamp. I tried to clean it up as much as possible before putting it in the mailbox. I hope it gets to Jay!

We walked along the road that led out of town, hoping to avoid the crowds, but eventually turned back to the main stretch. I wanted to get some souvenirs to take home and a parasol to protect me from the sun. There was an old woman selling paper parasols by the side of the road, so I bought a red one with pink and white flowers. I was quite pleased with myself- I’d always thought parasols were a grand idea for fair skin, but it just isn’t socially acceptable back home.

Nell holding a red parasol in front of a wall covered in posters.

We ended up spending most of our time between silk shops and an art store. When one shop keeper saw the Canada flag sewn on Nicole’s backpack, he asked “Are you from Canada or Quebec?” We laughed and said “You know Canada very well.” Later a French couple came into the store and he spoke French to them. We were surprised and Nicole congratulated him on his good French and asked why he learnt French to which he answered “I love Canada!” We thought he was pretty awesome.

There was a unique bamboo scroll I really liked at the art store, but it was too big to fit in my room with all my other art pieces. Also, I suspected it wouldn’t travel well. So instead, I bought a hand painted silk scarf that showed a classic river landscape. There are a lot of repeats in souvenir shops, but I hadn’t seen anything like this scarf during my week in China yet.

Happy with my parasol and silk scarf, we headed to the city park. It was a busy place with people gambling with cards and wood chips at stone tables, people sleeping next to their mopeds, and children playing on the park fitness equipment or in the carnival. There were two big statues that looked to be leftovers from communist China. It was the first time I’d seen such monuments in China.

Near the perimeter of the park was a stone hill that Nicole was set on climbing despite her post-crash condition. The steps were very perilous even for us, who spent our youth scrambling over the Niagara Escarpment together. You could see the different layers of repair on the stone steps, patchwork concrete and smooth and pocked stone, buffed by the many feet that had treaded over them. I cringed to think what they’d be like to pass over in the rain.

View of Yangshuo from top of hill

There was a small cave and various look out points on our way up the hill. It was very pretty and all along there were Chinese characters gracefully carved into the rock. The view was beautiful, and near the top we were asked by various Chinese people to pose with them for a picture with the city below. They were very excited to practice their English with us and were impressed by Nicole’s Mandarin. Everywhere we go, people ask us to take pictures with us. I’ve gotten used to it in the sense it’s become routine, but Nicole said that even after a year of being in China she still finds it amusing.

Once down the hill, we decided to get some lunch before getting on the bus. There were some street sellers outside of the park, offering tofu, noodles, and pickled vegetables and chicken feet from their carts. I decided to go with the noodles. They were very tasty, but I did notice there were raw vegetables with peel mixed in with the noodles. I hope I don’t get food poisoning from the water they were washed in- especially as we will be spending much of the afternoon and all night traveling to Jishou.

We each got a coconut coffee at a tea shop by the bus station and got on our bus in good time. The bus drive took us through the mountains and farmland. It was very picturesque, even with all the factories. Nicole got out her crosswords and I worked on writing my blog post.

sun set over city skyline

We arrived in Liuzhuo just as the sun was setting over the city. It took the bus 30 minutes to get to the bus station once in Liuzhuo- a route that also involved a u-turn on a busy street! We were let off in an lot behind a bunch of vacant looking apartment buildings just as it was getting dark. The bus driver pointed us in the way of the train station, which was within walking distance. We found the regular bus station and walked down a street of restaurants and electronic boutiques until we got to a crowded and chaotic intersection. As we made out way across the street, Nicole asked “How are you going to describe this on your blog?” I answered “Crazy?I really don’t know!”

The train station was a swarm of people. Inside there were long lines of people leading up to ticket booths with signs all in Chinese characters. We went to the shorter line to ask an attendant which line we should go into, but kindly she just booked our ticket for us there. The 9pm train was all booked up, but the 9:45pm still had some seats available, but no bed. So we took that, which only cost us 78¥.

Tickets in hand, we went in search of food. We went into the first restaurant we saw. They didn’t have an English or picture menu, so we ordered tofu soup and a vegetable dish someone else had on their table. There was a children’s cartoon on the television about a sheep in an astronaut outfit and an evil space pickle with a piece of paper taped on his face to signify where his eyes an mouth were. After going to the land of jello and giant doughnuts, other patrons of the restaurant switched the channel to a historical drama. The costume was interesting, but the cinematography, lighting, and melodramatic acting was so cheesy that it was funny.

People kept staring at us, pointing and gaping. A man sitting alone invited us to his table for baijiu. Nicole politely told him it was too strong for us. He then ordered beer and came over to our table. We smiled and told him we already had our own to finish and cheered him with our own cups of beer. We payed our bill and waved goodbye to everyone in the restaurant.

The restaurant did not have a washroom, but there was a fancy hotel across the road. So we feigned residency at the hotel, walking in with confidence and headed straight to the lobby washroom. There, we brushed our teeth and washed our face, preparing for the overnight train ride. We weren’t sure if the hotel staff were laughing at us because of Nicole’s mandarin or because they knew what we were up to, but they didn’t seem to mind either way.

The train station was huge and crowded. It was difficult finding two sets together to sit and wait for the train. It was there we realized that we were the only Caucasians in the whole station! We decided to take turns to use the washroom before boarding the train in case it didn’t have a washroom. I went first. At first I thought the washroom only had one stall, then I realized it had 4- there were just no doors! The washroom was a long trough and you went in front of everyone! I had no idea what to say when I returned to Nicole, but when she returned from the washroom he had the same look on her face, going “Oh my god! Oh my god!” She ha heard of trough toilets but never seen nor used one before.

Crowds in front of a train station

When it came time to board the train, we found ourselves in a swarm of people. I felt like cattle going to slaughter, making our way through gates and down stone halls, packed like a sardine. The train itself was very different fe VIA Rail. To start, it was very dirty. All the chairs faced one another in groups of 6 or 4. It was difficult finding our seats as people weren’t abiding by their ticket number and playing musical chairs. Nicole and I were across one another with an aisle between us, but our seat separated a couple, so then Nicole switched with the man. Then her neighbour kept talking over him to his friend across the aisle, so then she switched with him. Meanwhile I sat in a chair with a woman’s bare feet propped up on the edge of my seat, occasionally bumping into me. Women kept on coming up and down peddling watermelon, juices, toys and movie rentals on a laptop. People stood smoking between the trains and pacing up and down the aisle. Instead of a garbage bag there was a tray on the floor next to me that people would throw their food scraps and garbage. I had no idea how I was suppose to sleep during this 9 hour train ride overnight…

I was very happy I brought ear plugs and an eye mask. The bright train lights stayed on the whole night and the train car was constantly a buzz of people chatting and peddlers selling goods. It was cold at times so I used my mini travel towel as a blanket. Nicole entertained herself with the children on board and practicing her Mandarin with curious adults. People were asking how tall we were, our age, and going on about our noses too!

Green tetra pack of tea held up in a train of sleeping people

I drifted in and out of sleep. The train made frequent stops and people would go by with giant suitcases, battered cardboard boxes all taped up, and bags of rice. It was hard to get comfortable on the train, but I had it a lot better than Nicole who was sore all over from our scooter accident from the day before. I gave up on sleep sometime after 5:00am. Daylight began to break around 6:00, so I got the enjoy the mountain scenery again and rice terraces out the window while I drank my morning tea out of a box. The train had quieted down by then. Most people had fallen asleep.

I woke Nicole up close to our arrival time and we sat watching the train’s progress on Google Maps and admiring the landscape as we made our way into Jishou… And then, we were there!

Train and train tracks behind a row of white low rise buildings against a grey sky

We got off the train and were bombarded by taxi drivers and women holding signs to Fenghuang. We asked around and the going rate was 25¥ per person. We got a pancake and patty from a cart seller on the street, then went in search of the bus station. The station was tiny and packed with people who were all in a great rush. We found a bus and got the last two seats together.

Next stop, Fenghuang!

  • Photos taken on an iPhone 4S.

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